Two longtime Colorado bankers are organizing a community bank to snatch business from their former employers.

Next month, when Richard Walters and Joseph Williams open the doors of their Wheat Ridge-based bank - tentatively named Foothills Bank - they expect to be greeting customers they have known for decades and others who are turned off by Colorado's five biggest banks, all of which are from outside the state.

"Our niche can be best described as small business and customers who want a high level of service," said Mr. Williams, a 28-year banking veteran who was a top executive at Colorado National Bank until 1993. He was squeezed out when the bank was acquired by Minneapolis-based First Bank System Inc.

Those groups are "just not getting that hands-on banking they're used to getting," said Mr. Walters. "The big superregionals are going for high- volume, high-transaction banking that is not conducive to high-touch banking."

Foothills is not depending merely on its executives' old contacts, either; It is located near 500 acres of land slated to be developed for residences and retail.

"We're well situated," Mr. Walters said.

Mr. Williams will be president and chief executive of the bank. Mr. Walters, an executive at Affiliated Bank who stayed on for about a year after its 1992 acquisition by Banc One Corp., will be chairman and senior lender.

The two old banking hands, who have known each other since 1989, started working on chartering the bank two years ago. To find directors, they approached some of the board members of their former institutions.

"Our board of directors mostly consists of former ... directors and some of our best customers," Mr. Williams said.

State law requires start-up banks to open with at least $2 million in capital; Foothills raised that much - all in cash through a private placement - in three months, Mr. Williams said. There are no majority shareholders.

The bank will have up to $3 million in capital when it opens, Mr. Williams said.

"There's just more and more interest," he said.

It received its state charter in February and is still awaiting coverage from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which is expected later this month.

Barbara Walker, the state banking commissioner, said Colorado has been experiencing a boomlet in financial institution start-ups.

Since the beginning of 1995 two banks and two trust companies have received state charters, she said. More are on the way.

"There have been indications we could see two more bank charters this year and two more trust companies," she said.

"There are a lot of opportunities here for small community banks that can identify niches and go after the customers of the big banks," Ms. Walker said.

Mr. Walters said the lean, high-tech operation - it will have check imaging and PC-based home banking - will outperform the regional banks - including his former employer, Banc One. He said the Columbus, Ohio-based company's decision to centralize some of the Colorado bank's activities in Phoenix and elsewhere have alienated some of its customers, particularly small businesses.

"Essentially all of Colorado is run as a branch of Phoenix," Mr. Walters said.

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